Patrick Süskind

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

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Jean Baptiste Grenouille (which means “frog” in French) is born underneath a fish stall in a market located on a Parisian cemetery. Although brought to the world in this particularly stinky condition, Grenouille is best identified by his lack of a personal smell, which reflects his “genius and abominable” nature, his black and cold heart lacking human feelings and warmth.
However, he is endowed with the most fabulous sense of smell that has ever been described in a book! His only pleasure and his only link with society are therefore his nose.

Grenouille grows up and realises that people do not like him and that he does not like people. In fact most people he encounters during his life, starting with his mother, his tannery master Grimal, Baldini the pompous and talent-less perfumer, tend to exploit him, which leads to their most miserable but deserved end.
But Grenouille holds on dearly to his life and survives, as a vile tic, through illness, hunger and loneliness in order to accomplish his gloomy destiny.
For he has one goal in life: to create the most delicious and exquisite perfumes in the world. After succumbing to the fragrance of an innocent redhead girl, he endures many years of harsh training in order to master techniques of extracting its most intimate perfume from a living being.
The realisation that he does not have a personal odour confuses and scares him so much that he will dedicate the rest of his days to the creation of the ultimate perfume: his own odour.
Grenouille then discovers a beautiful and terrible truth: “he who controls smells controls the hearts of men”.
By combining the odours of pretty young virgins whom he murders, Grenouille succeeds in making the Perfume that inspires love.

How did this book become a cult literary reference, picked up by counterculture as, for example, in Nirvana’s Scentless Apprentice? First of all this captivating story arouses our morbid curiosity; will Grenouille remain an abject character till the end or will he be saved? The “sensuous” approach of the olfactory world is unique; the descriptions of the smells are so realistic and vivid that they are almost disconcerting or even disgusting – a little gory touch that many readers enjoy.
This book found its audience in all those who were fascinated by its gothic theme but funny style. Then, The Perfume is extremely well written, in beautiful, explicit, effective language that summons the olfactory memory of the reader to recall jasmine, leather or an old cheese.
But this literary style and the wonderful descriptions still leave space for a definite suspense, because it is, after all, the story of a medieval serial killer.
Also Grenouille’s adventures are told with brilliant sardonic humour, from the queen of France who smells like an old goat, to the hilarious theory of Fluidum Letale of the Marquis de Taillade-Espinasse, Grenouille’s vision of the “stupid, stinking and eroticised humans” that we are is so amazing that we can’t help but laugh.
Finally, Patrick Süskind has managed to loop the loop of Grenouille’s quest with a tragic but, somehow, almost touching end.

Delphine Dalquié

Le parfum, Histoire d'un meurtrier
roman de l'écrivain allemand Patrick Süskind


Le Parfum : histoire d'un meurtrier
Adaptation cinématographique
Réalisé par Tom Tykwer
Avec Ben Whishaw, Dustin Hoffman, Alan Rickman

Distributeur : Metropolitan FilmExport


Author Patrick Süskind
Genre Horror, Mystery, Absurd, Magic Realism
Publisher Penguin Books